Frederic Yonnet brings his harmonica funk out into the audience. Photo: Paul Cooper
Harmonica player Frederic Yonnet bounded onto the stage at the 2011 DC Jazz Fest. Yonnet's Sunday afternoon set was part of the Jazz on the National Mall event, at the Sylvan Theater in the shadow of the Washington Monument. For nearly an hour Yonnet and his four band members kept the funk flowing and the energy sizzling.
Yonnet is a showman first and foremost. Every gesture he makes while playing his harmonica is huge: he leans forward nigh-on horizontal from the waist as he screeches a high blues note or extends an arm wide out from his body, fingers stretched, to express heart-felt emotion. Though the venue had two jumbotrons set up, everyone in the crowd, no matter how far back, could immediately get what Yonnet was expressing.
Yonnet's playing is stuffed full of startling technique. His harmonica can pop like a funk bass, growl like a distorted guitar, snap like a snare, and glissando like a stately violin. But most of the time, Yonnet plays the harmonica in familiar blues vamps.
What's refreshing about Yonnet is his enthusiasm for his instrument and for bringing the fun to his audience. Early on in his set he asked us to forget worries: To forget what happened earlier this week, forget what happened yesterday, forget what happened this morning. We were to all just enjoy the music. (Over-reading a wink in his eye when he asked us to forget what happened earlier this week, I thought he was referring to the fall from grace of New York Representative Anthony Weiner.) He was persuasive; many of the audience accompanied his grooves with clapping on the second and fourth beats as suggested.
Twice Yonnet came down from the stage and played while walking through the audience. The first time Yonnet's bass player followed him, both wired up to radio mics so everyone could hear. You can see the crowd who gathered around them in the photo. As he moved across the area he got audience members out of their lawn chairs or off their beach towels to dance with him as he played, or tried on their hats, or in one case got cheek-to-cheek with one lady and took a photo of the two of them (now probably posted as a prized Facebook snap).
Yonnet schooled the audience a little towards the end of his set about how the harmonica is typically heard, in blues and rock, and asked if we'd heard him play anything more than that. Someone shouted out that she'd heard 'all music'. That's overly generous, but certainly Yonnet encouraged me to see more potential in the instrument. Above all Yonnet’s enthusiasm made his audience forget cares and lose themselves in his formidable playing.
Visit Yonnet's website for upcoming appearances!